Showing posts with label Architects. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Architects. Show all posts

5 April 2024

Francesco Laparelli - architect and military engineer

Italian who designed Valletta, the fortified capital of Malta

Francesco Laparelli found himself in demand as a military architect
Francesco Laparelli found himself
in demand as a military architect
The architect Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, who worked as assistant to Michelangelo Buonarroti at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome but is chiefly renowned for the design of Valletta, the fortified capital city of Malta, was born on this day in 1521 in the hilltop city of Cortona in what is now Tuscany.

Laparelli designed the campanile - bell tower - for Cortona’s duomo but turned his talents towards military engineering after serving as an officer under Cosimo de’ Medici during the battle for control of the Republic of Siena in the 1550s.

He went on to serve on Cortona’s city council and worked with other engineers on the Fortezza del Girifalco above the city. The cost of the fortress and other work on the city walls eventually bankrupted the city but Laparelli’s reputation was established.

He was summoned to Rome by Pope Pius IV in 1560  on the recommendation of Gabrio Serbelloni, the pope’s cousin and a condottiero with whom Laparelli had worked in Cortona.

Pius IV commissioned him to restore the fortifications at Civitavecchia, Rome’s main port, to build defences for the mouth of the Tiber river and to direct the strengthening of fortifications around the Vatican and the new suburb of Borgo Pio.

In 1565 he completed the reinforcement of the cylindrical Castel Sant'Angelo, now a familiar Rome landmark, and collaborated with Michelangelo on the huge dome of St Peter's Basilica, with particular focus on ensuring it was a stable structure.

Modern Valletta, capital of Malta, still resembles the fortress-city that was planned by Laparelli
Modern Valletta, capital of Malta, still resembles
the fortress-city that was planned by Laparelli
Laparelli was keen to take on further architectural projects in the capital but later in 1565 was asked by Pope Pius V to go to Malta, where the Knights of St John had finally defied a long siege of the island by the Ottoman Turks, who wanted it as a base from which to attack Italy, but at a cost of considerable destruction to the principal forts at Birgu, Senglea and St Elmo.

The Grand Knight, Jean Parisot de la Valette, favoured rebuilding the existing defences but Laparelli calculated that it would need 4,000 labourers working 24 hours a day just to make basic repairs and proposed that a new fortification on the Sciberras Peninsula could be built at a much cheaper cost. Such a fortification, he said, would enable Malta to be defended against any new incursion by the Turks with just 5,000 soldiers, far fewer than the 12,000 soldiers and 200 horses previously required to protect the island.

Laparelli’s design was for a city built on a grid plan with wide, straight streets, surrounded by ramparts and with the fort of St Elmo rebuilt at the tip of the peninsula. A ditch, later renamed the Ġnien Laparelli as a tribute to him, was added to protect the landward end of the peninsula.

The monument to Laparelli and his assistant, Girolamo Cassar, in Valletta
The monument to Laparelli and his
assistant, Girolamo Cassar, in Valletta
He left Malta in 1569 to help in the papal naval war against the Turks, at which point the major construction work on the city, to be called Valletta, was still to begin.

Born into one of Cortona’s wealthiest and most illustrious families, Laparelli would have one day hoped to return to his home city, where he still owned considerable land and estates, but met with an early death in Crete, where he was staying when he contracted plague at the age of 49 in 1570.

He was unable to see his designs reach fruition in Valletta, where his work was continued by his Maltese assistant, Girolamo Cassar. Both he and Cassar are commemorated with a monument between Valletta’s Parliament House and the ruins of its old Royal Opera House, sculpted by John Grima and unveiled in 2016.

Laparelli's campanile towers over the small hilltop city of Cortona, his place of birth
Laparelli's campanile towers over the small hilltop
city of Cortona, his place of birth
Travel tip:

Cortona, Laparelli’s home town, was founded by the Etruscans, making it one of the oldest cities in Tuscany. Its Etruscan Academy Museum displays a vast collection of bronze, ceramic and funerary items reflecting the town’s past. The museum also offers access to an archaeological park that includes city fortifications and stretches of Roman roads. Outside the museum, the houses in Via Janelli are some of the oldest houses still surviving in Italy. Powerful during the mediaeval period, Cortona was defeated by Naples in 1409 and then sold to Florence.  Characterised by its steep narrow streets, Cortona’s hilltop location - it has an elevation of 600 metres (2,000 ft) - offers sweeping views of the Valdichiana, including Lago Trasimeno, where Hannibal ambushed the Roman army in 217 BC during the Second Punic War.

Castel Sant'Angelo, which Laparelli reinforced before leaving for Malta, is a well-known Rome landmark
Castel Sant'Angelo, which Laparelli reinforced before
leaving for Malta, is a well-known Rome landmark

Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family on the right bank of the Tiber between 134 and 139 AD. There is a legend that the Archangel Michael appeared on top of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, which is how the castle acquired its present name. Pope Nicolas III commissioned a covered fortified corridor, the Passetto, to link it to the Vatican and Pope Clement VII was able to use it to escape from the Vatican during the siege of Rome by Charles V’s troops in 1527. Castel Sant’Angelo was used as the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca, during which the heroine leaps to her death from the ramparts.

Also on this day:

1498: The birth of soldier Giovanni dalle Bande Nere

1622: The birth of mathematician and scientist Vincenzo Viviani

1801: The birth of philosopher and politician Vincenzo Gioberti

(Picture credits: Valletta by MarcinCzerniawski, Castel Sant'Angelo by Rainhard2 via Pixabay; monument by No Swan So Fine, Cortona by Patrick Denker via Wikimedia Commons)


12 December 2023

Giancarlo De Carlo - architect

Forward-thinking designer who helped shape modern Urbino

De Carlo's ideas often put him at odds with more traditional urban planners
De Carlo's ideas often put him at odds
with more traditional urban planners
The architect Giancarlo De Carlo, who gained international recognition for his forward-thinking work in urban planning, was born in Genoa on this day in 1919. 

De Carlo was also a writer and educator, who was critical of what he saw as the failure of 20th century architecture.   Many of his building projects were in Urbino, the city in Marche known for its 15th century ducal palace and as the birthplace of the painter Raphael.  

He put forward a master plan for Urbino between 1958-64, which involved new buildings and renovations added carefully to the existing fabric of the city, described as genteel modernism and designed with the lives of Urbino citizens in mind. 

The most notable parts of the Urbino project were at the University of Urbino, where he worked for decades, constructing housing, classroom and administration buildings, carefully embedded into the hilly landscape and designed to facilitate ease of movement between parts of the campus.

He also built Matteotti New Village, a social housing project in Terni in Umbria to provide homes for the employees of Italy’s largest steel company, designed housing for working people in Matera in Basilicata and worked on the Mirano Hospital in Venice, buildings for the University of Siena, and the redevelopment of the Piazza della Mostra, Trento.

De Carlo’s buildings reflected his views on the involvement of users and inhabitants in the design process. On the Terni housing project, for example, he insisted that workers be paid to attend consultation sessions to enable him to understand better how they wanted to live. 

The Palazzo Battiferri at the University of Urbino, part of De Carlo's biggest planning project
The Palazzo Battiferri at the University of Urbino,
part of De Carlo's biggest planning project
He was a member of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and Team 10, which brought together a new generation of architects focussed on a new type of architecture, better suited to local social and environmental conditions.

De Carlo was educated at Milan Polytechnic, where he graduated in engineering in 1943. He joined the Italian navy but with Italy’s surrender to the Allies in September of that year he went into hiding, then joined the Italian Resistance movement. Together with another architect, Giuseppe Pagano, he organized an anarchist-libertarian partisan group in Milan, the Matteotti Brigades.

He resumed his studies in 1948, obtaining an architecture degree from the University of Venice before opening his first studio in Milan.  His progressive views came to the fore when he produced a series of short films denouncing prevalent ideas about the modern metropolis and, as a professor of urban planning, often clashed with other architects, who he claimed put abstract ideas ahead of the interests of people and their environment.

His 1956 housing project in Matera ignored most of what had become the accepted principles of modern architecture in favour of design sympathetic to the geographical, social and climatic context of the region.  Architects who shared his progressive views joined together in the group known as Team 10. 

De Carlo began working on his Urbino project in 1964, winning international recognition for his designs for the University Campus. During the 1968 student uprisings, he sought constructive dialogue with the students and subsequently wrote a number of essays in which he explored his theories on what became known as “participatory architecture”, underpinned by his own libertarian socialist ideals

Among many honours, De Carlo was awarded the Wolf Prize in Arts in 1988 and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1993. He died in Milan in 2005.

As well as being the home of Raphael, Urbino offers the attraction of a beautiful ducal palace
As well as being the home of Raphael, Urbino
offers the attraction of a beautiful ducal palace
Travel tip: 

Urbino, which is 36km (22 miles) inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region, is a majestic city on a steep hill.  It was once a famous centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also in its glory days throughout Europe, attracting outstanding artists and scholars to enjoy the patronage of the noble rulers. The Ducal Palace - a Renaissance building made famous by Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier - is now one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Inside the palace, the National Gallery of the Marche features paintings by Titian and Raphael, who was born in Urbino, and there are more examples of Raphael’s paintings at his house - Casa Natale di Raffaello - in Via Raffaello. The University swells the city’s population by up to 20,000. Urbino is home to a number of gastronomic delights, including crescia sfogliata, a flatbread often served stuffed with melted caciotta cheese, and prosciutto di Carpegna, a local cured ham.

Matera is renowned for its famous cave district, the Sassi di Matera, to which visitors flock
Matera is renowned for its famous cave district,
the Sassi di Matera, to which visitors flock
Travel tip:

Declared a European Capital of Culture in 2019, the city of Matera in Basilicata, where De Carlo completed his first important housing project, is famous for an area called the Sassi di Matera, made up of former cave-dwellings carved into an ancient river canyon. The area became associated with extreme poverty in the last century and was evacuated in 1952, lying abandoned until the 1980s, when a gradual process of regeneration began. Now, the area contains restaurants, hotels and museums and is an increasingly popular destination for visitors.  The oldest part of the city, known as the Civita, sits above the cave districts on a flat, rocky plateau. Before they were turned into new dwellings, the caves became an extension to the Civita, used for storage and stabling horses. The Cattedrale della Madonna della Bruna e di Sant'Eustachio, Matera’s duomo, built in Apulian Romanesque style in the 13th century, can be found at Civita’s highest point.  

Also on this day:

1572: The death of Loredana Marcello, Dogaressa of Venice

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1889: The death in Venice of the English poet, Robert Browning

1901: Guglielmo Marconi receives the first transatlantic radio signal

1957: The birth of novelist Susanna Tamaro

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan


7 October 2023

Michelozzo - architect and sculptor

Designs became a template for Renaissance palaces

A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo
A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is
taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo 
The influential Florentine architect and sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi died on this day in 1472 in his home city.

Known sometimes as Michelozzi but more usually Michelozzo, he is most famous for the palace in the centre of Florence he built on behalf of one of his principal employers, Cosimo de’ Medici, the head of the Medici banking dynasty, for which he developed original design features that became a template for architects not only of the Renaissance era but in later years too.

He was similarly innovative in his work on the ruined convent of San Marco in Florence, also on behalf of Cosimo, which he completely rebuilt.

Such was the influence of these two buildings on many projects during one of the busiest periods of architectural development in Italy’s history that the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, as it became known to reflect its ownership by the Riccardi family after 1659, came to be called ‘the first Renaissance palace’ and San Marco ‘the first Renaissance church’.

His other notable works in Florence include the renovation of the Basilica of della Santissima Annunziata and some additions to the Basilica di Santa Croce, while outside the city he built or renovated a number of villas for the Medici family, including the Castello di Caffagiolo at Barberino di Mugello, the Villa del Trebbio at Scarperia and the Villa Medici at Fiesole.

Michelozzo also worked outside Italy, in the Greek islands, and notably in what is now Croatia, primarily on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston.

In his early career, he was apprenticed to Lorenzo Ghiberti, the goldsmith and sculptor, and worked closely with the classical sculptor, Donatello. 

Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the
standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo was born in around 1396. His father, Bartolomeo di Gherardo Borgognone, was a tailor of French origin who lived and worked in the Santa Croce neighbourhood. The family moved to the San Giovanni quarter, the heart of the city, and later established a family home in Via Larga - now Via Camillo Cavour - which Michelozzo kept after his parents died.

His first employment, at the age of about 14, is thought to have been as a die-engraver for the Florentine mint. He became apprenticed to Ghiberti, who is best known as the creator of two of the three sets of sculpted brass doors of the Florence Baptistry, one of which - the east doors - was dubbed the Doors of Paradise by Michelangelo. 

He collaborated with Donatello on several projects, including the sacristy of Santa Trinita and an open-air pulpit at the cathedral in Prato. He was responsible for the architectural frames of a number of funerary monuments sculpted by Donatello.

Cosimo de’ Medici worked with Filippo Brunelleschi, another pioneer of Renaissance architecture and the architect of the enormous brick dome of the Florence Duomo, but is said to have found Michelozzo more receptive to his wishes than the more temperamental Brunelleschi.

Such was Michelozzo’s loyalty to Cosimo than when the latter was exiled to Venice in the 1430s as a result of political rivalries in Florence, Michelozzo went with him.

Soon after Cosimo’s exile ended, Michelozzo began the rebuilding of the ruined monastery of San Marco, where his elegant library became the model for subsequent libraries throughout 15th-century Italy. He directed the reconstruction of the large complex of church buildings at Santissima Annunziata and temporarily succeeded Brunelleschi as architect for the Duomo after the latter died in 1446.

He began work on the Palazzo Medici in 1444. The palace, a short distance from Michelozzo’s own home in Via Larga, is characterised by an elevation consisting of three storeys of decreasing height, divided by horizontal string courses, the lowest storey finished in rustic masonry, the uppermost in highly refined stonework, the middle one somewhere in between. 

The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical
Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
With influences of classical Roman architecture and some of the principles Michelozzo learned from Brunelleschi, Palazzo Medici came to be seen as one of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture, and a template to which future architects referred.

In addition to the Medici villas, Michelozzo worked on the restoration of the Palazzo Vecchio - originally the Palazzo della Signoria - and undertook a number of projects abroad, including a guest house in Jerusalem for the use of Florentine pilgrims.

In 1461, at the age of 65, Michelozzo was invited by the government of what was then the Republic of Ragusa - an independent maritime trading republic with ties to Venice - to work on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston, now part of Croatia.  His cylindrical Fort Bokar, which defended the western gate of Dubrovnik, was hailed as a masterpiece. 

Michelozzo might have remained there longer, but a dispute over his ideas for rebuilding the Rector's palace - the seat of the republic's government - after an explosion left it badly damaged led him to cut short his stay and return to Florence. 

With his wife, Francesca, who was 20 to his 45 when they were married, Michelozzo had seven children, two of whom, Niccolò and Bernardo, were educated by the Medici and grew up to occupy important positions in Medici households.

After his death, Michelozzo was buried at the monastery of San Marco.

Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in
the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Travel tip:

For all its architectural significance, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which can be found on Via Camillo Cavour about halfway between San Marco and Piazza della Repubblica, has a relatively modest appearance from the outside, which is probably as a result of the laws in existence at the time governing public displays of wealth. It was completed in 1484 and remained a Medici property until it was sold to the Riccardi family in 1659, after which it was renovated and the magnificent gallery frescoed with the Apotheosis of the Medici, by Luca Giordano, was added. The palace was sold to the Tuscan state in 1814. Since 1874, the palace has been the seat of the provincial government of Florence and has housed a museum since 1972. As well as the gallery, the palace is also noted for the Magi Chapel, which was frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli and also contains an altarpiece by Filippo Lippi. Two statues by Donatello - a David in the courtyard and a Judith and Holofernes in the garden - are other notable works.

Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of
the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Travel tip:

The Museo Nazionale di San Marco, which houses the world’s most extensive collection of works by Fra Angelico, the early Renaissance painter and Dominican friar, is an art museum housed in the monumental section of the mediaeval Dominican convent of San Marco, situated in Piazza San Marco. Situated in the oldest part of the building, which was modernised by Michelozzo between 1436 and 1446, it has been a museum since 1869. It also houses works by Fra Bartolomeo, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti and Jacopo Vignali. Michelozzo’s library, on the first floor, was the first of the Renaissance to be opened to the public, representing the humanist ideal of the Florentines. 

Also on this day:

304: The execution of Santa Giustina of Padua

1468: The death of condottiero Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

1675: The birth of Venetian portraitist Rosalba Carriera

1972: The birth of celebrity cook Gabriele Corcos


11 April 2023

Donato Bramante - architect and painter

Father of High Renaissance style left outstanding legacy

Bramante made his mark in Rome in the 16th century
Bramante made his mark in
Rome in the 16th century
The architect and painter Donato Bramante, credited with introducing High Renaissance architecture to Rome, died on this day in 1514 in Rome, probably aged around 70.

Bramante, who was also a perspectivist painter, worked in Milan before moving to Rome, where he produced the original designs for St Peter’s Basilica and built several buildings and structures considered to be masterpieces of early 16th century architecture.

These include the Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio on the summit of the Janiculum Hill, the Chiostro di Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona, the Cortile del Belvedere and Scala del Bramante in the Vatican and the Palazzo della Cancelleria, located between Campo de' Fiori and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

Bramante was born Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio in around 1444 to a well-to-do farming family in Fermignano, a town in what is now the Marche region, a few kilometres south of Urbino. He was also known as Bramante Lazzari. 

Little is known of his early life, although it is possible he worked on the construction site of Federico da Montefeltro's Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, having trained under its architect, Luciano Laurana.

He moved to Milan in 1476 and the first work definitively attributed to him was in Bergamo, 50km (31 miles) or so to the northeast, where he painted murals, notably on the facade of the Palazzo del Podestà in 1477. His mastery of perspective is thought to have been influenced by Piero della Francesca, his contemporary.

In Milan, Ludovico Sforza appointed Bramante his court architect on the recommendation of his brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. His work there included the a rectory and cloisters of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which featured his characteristic use of arches, and alterations to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie - famously the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper - where he added a cloister, a rectory and a dome surrounded by columns. 

Bramante's original design for the dome of St Peter's Basilica
Bramante's original design for the
dome of St Peter's Basilica
In 1499, however, Bramante’s time in Milan came to an abrupt end in 1499, when Ludovico Sforza was driven out by an invading French army. Bramante moved to Rome.

There, he immersed himself in the study of the architecture of ancient Rome, which would influence the style that became known as High Renaissance.

He became known to Giuliano della Rovere, the Cardinal who was the future Pope Julius II, his biggest patron. It was Julius who commissioned Bramante to build a new St Peter's, replacing the basilica erected by Constantine in the fourth century, which he envisaged would be the greatest Christian church ever constructed. 

There was a competition organised, which Bramante won with a design based on an enormous Greek-cross structure topped by a central dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. However when Pope Julius died in 1513, his successor replaced Bramante with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, and the commission then passed to Raphael in 1514, a few months after Bramante’s own death. It was not until 1547 that Michelangelo took over as chief architect, making substantial changes to Bramante's original plan.

St Peter’s Basilica apart, Julius II employed Bramante on many more projects, including whole complexes of buildings, fountains and street layouts as the pontiff set about a programme of urban regeneration. 

Among these, his Cortile del Belvedere - Belvedere Courtyard - a long, rectangular courtyard connecting the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere in a series of terraces, linked by stairs, influenced the design of courtyards across Europe.

The Tempietto di San Pietro is considered a Bramante masterpiece
The Tempietto di San Pietro is
considered a Bramante masterpiece
His Scala del Bramante, meanwhile, though described as a staircase, was in fact a ramp, an innovative double-helix spiral connecting the Vatican's Belvedere Palace to the outside world of Rome. Lined with granite Doric columns and featuring a herringbone paving pattern, it was designed to allow Julius II to enter his private residence while still in his carriage.  

Two of Bramante’s most acclaimed masterpieces, those that earned him the description of Father of the High Renaissance, were the cloister at Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa around 1500, with a magnificent upper gallery characterised by alternating Corinthian pilasters and columns, and the Tempietto di San Pietro, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, a circular temple composed of slender Tuscan columns, modelled after the ancient Roman Theatre of Marcellus.

An extrovert character who wrote poetry and music, Bramante was a close friend of Raphael, in whose fresco The School of Athens he depicts Bramante as the mathematician, Euclid.

The town of Fermignano can be found  a few kilometres south of Urbino
The town of Fermignano can be found 
a few kilometres south of Urbino
Travel tip:

Fermignano, Bramante’s birthplace, has a history that dates back to Roman times, when it was the location for the defeat of Hannibal’s Carthaginian army, led by his brother, Hasdrubal, in 207BC.  Significant buildings include the Delle Milizie tower and a Roman bridge over the Metauro river. A former paper mill located in Via Santa Veneranda used to be rented out by the Montefeltro family. The church of San Giacomo  in Compostela is an important historical monument with 14th and 15th century frescoes. A contemporary art gallery in the town is named after Bramante.

The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by
Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which contains some of Bramante’s most significant work, occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens. Since 1929, it has enjoyed the status of the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.

Also on this day:

1512: The Battle of Ravenna

1890: The birth of dictator’s wife Rachele Mussolini

1987: The death of writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi



22 March 2023

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument - Rome landmark

 ‘Altar of the Fatherland’ built to honour unified Italy’s first king

The Monument's multi-layered construction in white marble has earned it the nickname the 'wedding cake
The Monument's multi-layered construction in white
marble has earned it the nickname the 'wedding cake'
The foundation stone of Rome’s huge Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II was laid on this day in 1885 in the presence of his son and successor Umberto I and his family.

The monument, which took half a century to fully complete, occupies a site on the northern slope of the Capitoline (Campidoglio) Hill on the south-eastern side of the modern city centre, a few steps from the ruins of the Forum, the heart of ancient Rome.

Built in white Botticino marble, the multi-tiered monument is 135m (443 ft) wide, 130m (427 ft) deep, and 70m (230 ft) high, rising to 81m (266ft) including the two statues of a chariot-mounted winged goddess Victoria on the summit of the two propylaea. 

Its appearance has earned it various nicknames, ranging from the ‘wedding cake’ to the ‘typewriter’, although it is officially known as Vittoriano or Altare della Patria - the Altar of the Fatherland.

The Altare della Patria is actually just one part of the monument, at the front and in the centre, consisting of an inset statue of the goddess Roma and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where two soldiers guard an eternal flame.

Vittorio Emanuele II is commemorated with a huge bronze statue at the front of the monument
Vittorio Emanuele II is commemorated with a
huge bronze statue at the front of the monument
Above it is a large bronze horse-back statue of Vittorio Emanuele II himself on a central plinth in front of the broad upper colonnade.  The statue, 10m (33ft) long and 12m (40ft) high, is said to have been made with 50 tons of bronze obtained by melting down army cannons.

Officially opened in 1911 on the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, the monument has become a national symbol of Italy, representing the values of freedom and unity, which are represented in the two chariots atop the propylaea - on the left is the Quadriga dell'Unità by Carlo Fontana, on the right the Quadriga della Libertà by Paolo Bartolini.

The Vittoriano has an important ceremonial role. On three occasions each year - on Liberation Day (April 25), Republic Day (June 2) and Armed Forces Day (November 4) - the President of the Republic lays a laurel wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honour those who sacrificed their lives in the service of the country.

It also houses the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento Italiano al Vittoriano, the museum that commemorates the decades-long struggle for Italian unification, known as the Risorgimento.

The idea of building a permanent monument to Vittorio Emanuele II was first mooted soon after his death in 1878, when a Royal Commission set up to have responsibility for the project invited architects to put forward their ideas in a competition.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the Italian president lays a laurel wreath on state occasions
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the Italian
president lays a laurel wreath on state occasions
The winner was a French designer, Henri-Paul Nénot. However, the idea of entrusting a non-Italian with what would become a symbol of the nation provoked such fierce opposition, not least because Nénot’s entry was one he had previously submitted for a project in Paris, that the contest was declared void and another one staged.

After the Commission could not decide between designs submitted by the Italians Manfredo Manfredi and Giuseppe Sacconi, and the German Bruno Schmitz, a third contest took place, which was won by Sacconi, an architect from Le Marche, whose design envisaged a neoclassical interpretation of the nearby Forum.

Such was the scale of the project, including the vast Piazza Venezia that the monument overlooks, a wide area of mediaeval and Renaissance streets and buildings had to be demolished. A small building to the right of the Vittoriano, at the foot of the stairway leading to the adjoining Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, is all that remains.

Building proceeded slowly and was still some way from complete when Sacconi died in 1905. The project was continued by Gaetano Koch, Manfredi and Pio Piacentini and though it was inaugurated during the international exhibition for the 50th anniversary of unification in 1911, it was not considered complete until 24 years later.

During this time, the body of the Italian Unknown Soldier was placed in the crypt under the statue of the goddess Roma. This took place on Armed Forces Day in 1921, when the remains of an unidentified soldier killed in the First World War were interred in a solemn ceremony and the eternal flame was lit.

Finally, in 1935, the monument was declared to be fully completed with the addition of the museum of the Risorgimento, which occupies the space between the propylaea on the upper level. 

The entrance to the Museo del Risorgimento can be found on Via San Pietro in Carcere
The entrance to the Museo del Risorgimento
can be found on Via San Pietro in Carcere
Travel tip:

Open to the public since 1970, the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento Italiano - the National Museum of the Risorgimento - takes visitors on a tour of the Risorgimento in 14 stages, beginning with the Napoleonic period at the end of the 18th century and ending with the First World War, marking major events such as the uprising known as the Five Days of Milan, the two wars of independence and Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand. It celebrates the roles of Garibaldi, the revolutionary philosopher Giuseppe Mazzini, the politician Cavour (Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour) and Vittorio Emanuele II himself. Visitors access the museum via an entrance on Via San Pietro in Carcere, to the rear of the monument.

Rome's ancient Forum, an area of extensive ruins, is one of the city's most popular attractions
Rome's ancient Forum, an area of extensive ruins,
is one of the city's most popular attractions
Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, the ruins of which can be found immediately behind the Vittoriano, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions.  The site opens at 8.30am and closes one hour before sunset and visitors should allow at least two hours to explore.

Also on this day:

1837: The birth of ‘La Castiglione’ - mistress of Napoleon III

1921: The birth of actor and director Nino Manfredi

1986: The death of fraudster Michele Sindona


13 October 2022

Giorgio Massari - architect

Work in 18th century Venice had echoes of Palladio

The Chiesa dei Gesuati is seen by many as Massari's masterpiece
The Chiesa dei Gesuati is seen by
many as Massari's masterpiece 
The architect Giorgio Massari, who designed a number of significant churches and palaces in Venice in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1687.

Massari’s legacy in Venice includes the imposing Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal and the church of Santa Maria del Rosario, commonly known as the Gesuati, on the Giudecca Canal, which is acknowledged as his masterpiece.

He redesigned Santa Maria della Visitazione - known as the Pietà - the church on the Riva degli Schiavoni famous for its association with the great Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote some of his most famous music while working as a violin teacher at the adjoining orphanage.

Outside Venice, Massari designed villas and churches around Brescia, Treviso and Udine. 

His designs, especially his churches and villas, were often influenced by the work of the 16th century Classical architect Andrea Palladio and by Massari’s fellow Venetian, the Baroque sculptor and architect Baldassare Longhena.

Massari was born in the San Luca parish of the San Marco sestiere. His father, Stefano, was a carpenter from a village near Brescia in Lombardy. 

Little is known of his early life, although it is thought he may have studied under the supervision of Antonio Gaspari, who may himself have learned from Longhena.

Although it is likely that he had worked on other projects, the first to have been attributed to Massari is a house now known as the Villa Lattes at Istrana in the province of Treviso, which he designed in around 1712 for a wealthy merchant, Paolo Tamagnin.

Massari's Palazzo Grassi, on the Grand Canal, has many features of Classical design
Massari's Palazzo Grassi, on the Grand Canal,
has many features of the Classical design style
His reputation grew through his successes in both civil and religious architecture, which included the Palladian-style Villa Corner at Cavasagra, also in Treviso province, and the Oratory of Santa Maria della Salute in Badia Polesine, near Rovigo, which combined elements of Palladian, Rococo and neoclassical.

He began work on the Gesuiti church after the original architect had died. The project was only in its infancy and the Dominican friars who commissioned the building were so impressed with Massari’s plans that they ditched the drawings left behind by the first architect.

Situated on Fondamenta Zattere in the Dorsoduro sestiere, looking out over the broad Giudecca Canal, the Gesuati pays homage in its design to Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, the landmark church on the small island at the eastern tip of the Giudecca, with its facade of Corinthian columns topped by a triangular pediment.

With its dome and twin adjoining bell towers, meanwhile, it compliments Palladio’s Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, which overlooks the Giudecca Canal from the opposite bank.

Also in Dorsoduro, Massari worked extensively on Ca’ Rezzonico, a monumental Baroque palace on the Grand Canal that had been designed by Baldassarre Longhena in 1649 but abandoned after the family who commissioned it fell on hard times. Massari was invited to complete the project more than 100 years later after it was bought by Giambattista Rezzonico, whose family were from the Como area of Lombardy.

It was while he was finishing the Ca’ Rezzonico that Massari was hired to design a new Palazzo Grassi on behalf of the Grassi family, who had acquired the building in 1655. The new palace based on Massari’s designs was constructed between 1748 and 1772. Designed along academic classical lines, it was the last grand palazzo built on the Grand Canal before the fall of the Venetian Republic.

Massari's villas often mimicked the style of Andrea Palladio, who influenced much of his work
Massari's villas, such as the Villa Giovanelli near
Padua, often echoed the style of Andrea Palladio
Massari’s involvement with the church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, known as La Pietà, which is situated only a short distance from Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, apparently began after he won a competition to redesign it, in 1736. It is thought that he spoke to Vivaldi, who was the choirmaster, about the acoustics, although work did not begin until four years after the composer’s death.

The facade, which again has echoes of Palladio in its Corinthian columns and triangular pediment, was not actually finished until the early 20th century, although it is faithful for the most part to Massari’s design.

Other works in Venice attributed to Massari include the church of San Marcuola on the Grand Canal in Cannaregio and the facade of what is now the Academy of Fine Arts in Dorsoduro.

Outside Venice, he designed churches in Brescia and its province, in Scorzè near Treviso, and in Udine. He also contributed to the renovation of the cathedrals in Udine and Padua.

When Paolo Tamagnin died in 1734, Massari married his widow, Pisana Bianconi, and settled with her in a house in the Castello sestiere that had been owned by her late husband.

Widowed in 1751 without children, Massari died in 1766 at the age of 79. His body was buried in the Tamagnin tomb in the church of San Giovanni in Bragora in Castello.

Massari finished the Ca' Rezzonico palace in accordance with Baldassare Longhena's designs
Massari finished the Ca' Rezzonico palace in
accordance with Baldassare Longhena's designs
Travel tip:

Ca’ Rezzonico, which Massari finished according to the designs of Baldassare Longhena, displays paintings by the leading Venetian painters of the 18th century, including Francesco Guardi and Giambattista Tiepolo. The latter was commissioned to paint the ceilings of two salons in 1758, to celebrate the election of Carlo, the younger brother of Giambattista Rezzonico, as Pope Clement XIII, and the marriage of Ludovico Rezzonico to Faustina Savorgnan, uniting the two richest families in Venice. The last of the Rezzonico family to live in the palace died in 1810, since when it has been bought and sold many times. The English poet Robert Browning died in the Ca’ Rezzonico in 1889 at the time it was owned by his son, Robert Barrett Browning. For a period in the 20th century it was the home of Cole Porter, the American composer and songwriter, who rented it for $4,000 a month. Nowadays, it houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice, hosting many precious examples of the furniture and decorations of the period, it has a wealth of Venetian paintings, including works by Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi.

The interior of San Luca Evangelista
The interior of San
Luca Evangelista
Travel tip:

The church of San Luca Evangelista in the San Marco sestiere, where Giorgio Massari was baptised, can be found on Rio de San Luca, a side canal off the Grand Canal behind Palazzo Grimani di San Luca. The church itself, which dates back to the 11th century, when it was the family place of worship for the Dandalo and Pizzamano families.  It has a simple facade but a richly decorated interior that features frescoes by Sebastiani Santi and altarpieces by Paolo Veronese and Palma il Giovane. 

Also on this day:

54: The death of Roman emperor Claudius

1815: The execution of Joachim Murat, former King of Naples

1884: The birth of anarchist Mario Buda

1899: The birth of sportsman and entrepreneur Piero Dusio

1985: The death of silent movie star Francesca Bertini


6 May 2022

Carlo Mollino - architect and polymath

A Renaissance man of the mid-20th century

Carlo Mollino's talent was nurtured by his engineer father
Carlo Mollino's talent was
nurtured by his engineer father
The multi-talented architect Carlo Mollino, who designed buildings, interiors and furniture but whose talents also ran to writing and photography, racing car design, aerobatic flying and downhill skiing, was born on this day in 1905 in Turin.

Mollino, whose style has been described as an eclectic fusion of the modern and the surreal, was responsible for several notable public buildings, including the Turin Chamber of Commerce and the headquarters of the Horse Riding Club of Turin, as well as several striking private residences and apartment buildings.

He also designed the extraordinary Lago Nero Sled Station, at Sauze d'Oulx, the winter resort 50km (31 miles) north of Turin, and rebuilt the interior of the Teatro Regio opera house in Turin 40 years after a catastrophic fire left little behind the the 18th century facade intact.

Never married in his 68 years, Mollino also had a deeply secretive side, which manifested itself in a number of apartments he kept, the whereabouts of which he disclosed to no one, not even his closest friends and acquaintances.

One of these, in a 19th century villa overlooking the Po river in the centre of Turin, which he preserved as a kind of idealistic shrine, filled with his favourite objects but where it is thought he never actually lived, is now a museum, the Casa Mollino.

Mollino was raised in comfortable surroundings in a 19th-century neo-Gothic villa in Rivoli, about 20km (12 miles) west of Turin. His father, Eugenio, was an important civil engineer who, over the course of his career, built more than 300 buildings in Turin.  His father’s work was evidently something that captured the imagination of the young boy, who astonished his teachers at the age of just six by drawing a detailed cross section of a car engine and an illustration of an imaginary town drawn with accurate perspective.

Mollino's Lago Nero Sled Station, which he called a "flying chalet"
Mollino's Lago Nero Sled Station,
which he called a "flying chalet"
An only child, Mollino grew up in an environment populated mainly by women, the house being home to three great aunts and two female housekeepers as well as his mother, Jolanda. After high school, he studied engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin he attended the Royal Superior School of Architecture, making friends with students at the Academy of Fine Arts, to which it was attached.

After graduating, he worked in Eugenio’s studio, from which he pursued his own projects as well as helping his father. The first major work to bear his own stamp was the offices of the Farmers’ Federation in Cuneo, a city about 100km (62 miles) south of Turin, the commission for which was a prize in a competition. The building, which had influences of metaphysical art, immediately identified Mollino as an architect eager to challenge conventions.

At the same time, Mollino was devoting much of his energy to writing. His novel, the Life of Oberon, in which the main character was an architect called Oberon, was published in several instalments in the architecture magazine, Casabella. The novel, seen to be ahead of its time in its protagonist’s description of nature and history as the environments in which architects work, and of the capacity of designs to tell a story, has been interpreted as a personal manifesto.

Mollino's foyer of the Teatro Regio opera house in Turin
Mollino's foyer of the Teatro Regio
opera house in Turin
Mollino’s first acknowledged architectural masterpiece was the headquarters of the Società Ippica Torinese - the Horse Riding Club of Turin - which he completed in 1940. The building combines elements of surrealism and metaphysical art with modernism in an innovative design.

War interrupted Mollino’s architectural career. He escaped being sent away to fight after a friend gave him a job as a technician at an aeronautical construction company.  

Mollino was by then living in an apartment in Turin but left the city because of Allied bombing and returned to live in the family villa in Rivoli. During the war years, he wrote books on photography and skiing, at which he was so proficient he qualified as an instructor. His Il Messaggio dalla Camera Oscura was the first compendium on the history of photography to be published in Italy. 

The years after the war were his most productive as as an architect, during which he built the Lago Nero Sled Station on behalf of the car designer Piero Dusio, owner of the Cisitalia company, which resembled a traditional log ski chalet suspended on concrete trusses, the Casa del Sole apartment building in Cervinia, a new Monumental Cemetery on the outskirts of Turin, the interior of Turin’s RAI Auditorium and the Casa Cattaneo, a rationalist villa overlooking Lago Maggiore.

The dining room from one of Mollino's apartments illustrated his interior design work
The dining room from one of Mollino's
apartments illustrated his interior design work
The death of his father in 1953 pushed Mollino into a personal crisis, during which he almost abandoned architecture. His consuming interests were photography, latterly of an increasingly erotic nature as he sought to highlight what he saw as the aesthetic qualities of the female form, car design - his Bisiluro racing car, built in 1955, competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - and aerobatic flying, by which he became excited after obtaining his pilot’s license in 1956.  It was during this time that his one serious relationship, with the sculptress Carmelina Piccolis, came to an end.

His focus on architectural projects returned in the late 1950s and continued until his death in 1953 from cardiac arrest. By then, he had sealed his legacy with the Chamber of Commerce building in Turin, the design of which allowed for large functional spaces free from columns, and the Teatro Regio opera house, the interior of which saw Mollino create a spectacular elliptical auditorium with a shell-like roof and lightning that resembled icicles, and a labyrinthine foyer based on the enormous subterranean vaults imagined by the 18th century artist, Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

After his death in 1973, it was discovered that he had created in his secret apartment in Via Napione between 1961 and 1970 a collection of different rooms, each lavishly decorated in individual style, one of which was furnished with a boat-shaped bed on a blue carpet, surrounded with symbols of ancient funeral rituals and some of his personal treasures and photographs. It is thought this was the room in which he intended to spend his final hours, although in the event he was working in his studio when he died.

The museum, which can be visited by private appointment, is now maintained by Italian design expert Fulvio Ferrari and his son Napoleone.

Juvarra's unfinished facade of the Castle of Rivoli
Juvarra's unfinished facade
of the Castle of Rivoli
Travel tip:

The town of Rivoli, where Mollino grew up, is notable for the Castle of Rivoli, probably built in the 9th–10th centuries and acquired by the House of Savoy in the 11th century.  In 1273 King Edward I of England visited the castle en route from the Crusades and the castle was the first place of public veneration of the Shroud of Turin, the length of cloth claimed to have been wrapped around the body of Christ after the crucifixion. Work on the current Baroque structure began in the 17th century and was redesigned but never finished by the architect Filippo Juvarra in the 18th century. Since the late 20th century it has been home to a permanent collection of 20th-century Italian art.

Mollino's elliptical auditorium at the Teatro Regio Torino, with its icicle lighting
Mollino's elliptical auditorium at the Teatro
Regio Torino, with its icicle lighting
Travel tip:

The Teatro Regio Torino, which was Mollino’s last major work, can be found in Piazza Castello close to the Palazzo Reale in the centre of Turin. The theatre has had of a chequered history. Inaugurated in 1740, it was closed by royal decree in 1792 then reopened with the French occupation of Turin during the early 19th century, first as the Teatro Nazionale and then the Teatro Imperiale before its original name was reinstated with the fall of Napoleon in 1814. It endured several financial crises in the late 1800s but limped into the 20th century only to be burnt down in the catastrophic fire in 1936. It remained dark for 37 years until reopening in 1973. The rebuilt theatre, with Mollino’s striking contemporary interior design hidden behind the original facade, was inaugurated with a production of Verdi's I vespri siciliani directed by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano.

Also on this day:

1527: The Sack of Rome

1895: The birth of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino

1963: The birth of ballerina Alessandra Ferri


2 May 2022

Michele Busiri Vici - architect

Key designer in Costa Smeralda project

The church of Stella Maris in Porto Cervo has the soft lines typical of Michele Busiri Vici's style
The church of Stella Maris in Porto Cervo has the
soft lines typical of Michele Busiri Vici's style
The architect Michele Busiri Vici, whose distinctive work featured heavily in the development of the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia as an exclusive holiday playground in the 1960s, was born on this day in 1894 in Rome.

Along with the French architect Jacques Couelle and his fellow Italian, Luigi Vietti, Vici was commissioned by the Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim al-Husseini, to develop the area at the northeastern tip of the island and build a new resort, Porto Cervo.

The prince, himself said to be worth $13.3 billion as one of the world’s richest royals, assembled a consortium of investors to finance the project, which began in 1961 and remains a destination popular with celebrities, business and political leaders and other wealthy individuals.

Vici’s contributions included the highly distinctive church of Stella Maris in Porto Cervo, the Hotel Romazzino and Hotel Lucia della Muntagna and numerous villas. 

He also left his mark on Porto Rafael, a small resort founded by another wealthy individual, Raphael Neville, Count of Berlanga de Duero, in the late 1950s.  There he designed the Piazzetta, a chapel, and private villas for clients such as Peter Ward, a brother of the Earl of Dudley, and the Guinness heiress Maureen Dufferin, who was a cousin of the Aga Khan.

Vici was engaged by the Aga Khan
Vici was engaged
by the Aga Khan
Busiri Vici followed in a long line of architects, going right back to the union of the French Beausire family with the Vici family of Arcevia, near Ancona in the Marche region. 

On the French side of the dynasty was Jean Beausire, an engineer and fountain maker who was chief of public works in Paris for Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV of France between 1684 and 1740. On the Italian side, Andrea Vici (1743–1817) worked under Luigi Vanvitelli on the Royal Palace of Caserta near Naples and later on projects for the Vatican. 

Michele’s older brother, Clemente Busiri Vici, designed churches for Pope Pius XI, such as Gran Madre di Dio and San Roberto Bellarmino, on which another brother, Andrea, also worked.  

Michele Busiri Vici graduated in 1921 from the Rome School of Engineering.  At first, he worked with his brother Clemente, working on projects such as a castle for the Gaulino family in Sestri Levante in Liguria and a villa-museum for the Gaulino family in Turin, now a prestigious hotel.

In 1930, branching out on his own, he created the Villa Attolico near Porta Latina in Rome, restored the Castle of Torre in Pietra and designed gardens around the archaeological site of Ostia Antica.

A villa in the Costa Smeralda designed by Michele Busiri Vici, valued at around €14 million (£11.76m)
A villa in the Costa Smeralda designed by Michele
Busiri Vici, valued at around €14 million (£11.76m)
His reputation was only enhanced when he received an award from the city of New York for the design of the Italian Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair. His talent for designing coastal villas that harmonised with the landscape, a characteristic of his work on the Costa Smeralda, emerged when he was asked to devise a plan for the development of the coast of Sabaudia in Lazio, in an area reclaimed by Mussolini from the Pontine Marshes, as a consequence of which he designed and built numerous villas in the area between Sabaudia and San Felice Circeo. 

With soft lines, whitewashed walls and fixtures painted in the colour now known as 'Busiris Green', these villas in what became known as the Mediterranean style were his trademark, although he regularly worked on other projects to ensure he was not pigeonholed as simply a designer of coastal villas.

These included the interior of the turbine steamship Raphael for the Italian Navigation Company, and urban projects that contributed to the redevelopment of Athens and Rome. In the Italian capital, his distinctive designs still stand out in the Via Vigna Stelluti, Ponte Milvio and Parioli areas.

In his work on the Costa Smeralda, the soft lines and whitewashed walls of his villas around Sabaudia were embellished with terracotta tiles and ceramics and even incorporated the huge, granite boulders that were a common feature of the handscape. 

Busiri Vici retired in 1977 and died in Rome four years later, aged 86. His grandson, also named Michele Busiri Vici, followed him into architecture. He is principal and founder of Space4Architecture (S4A), based in New York.

The Costa Smeralda is famed for its miles of white, sandy beaches in northern Sardinia
The Costa Smeralda is famed for its miles of
white, sandy beaches in northern Sardinia
Travel tip:

Originally the name of a small stretch of coastline near the town of Arzachena in northern Sardinia, the Costa Smeralda, known in Sardinian dialect as Montes de Mola, now incorporates some 20km (12 miles) of white sand beaches, lined with golf clubs and exclusive hotels and has become one of the most expensive locations in Europe in terms of property prices, with houses costing up to €330,000 ($348,000; £252,000) per square metre. In addition to Porto Cervo, the main towns are Liscia di Vacca, Capriccioli, and Romazzino.  Each September, the Sardinia Cup sailing regatta is held off the coast, while wealthy residents and visitors can take mark in polo matches at Gershan. near Arzachena. The area is rich in archaeological sites from the Nuragic period, which lasted about 1,500 years from the Bronze Age until the Roman colonisation of the island in 238 BC.

The Piazzetta in Porto Rafael, which was designed by Michele Busiri Vici
The Piazzetta in Porto Rafael, which was
designed by Michele Busiri Vici
Travel tip:

Porto Rafael was founded by Raphael Neville, Count of Berlanga de Duero, in the late 1950s. Neville was the son of Edgar Neville, the Hollywood film director, who inherited his title from his maternal family, who were Spanish aristocrats. Although he defied his father’s wish that he study architecture at college in favour of a more bohemian lifestyle, after buying an area of land by the sea near the town of Palau, he had enough interest in the subject to draw the design for a port.  Over time, with the encouragement of friends, the financial support of contacts and the work of architects such as Michele Busiri Vici, the port was built and well-heeled buyers began to acquire plots of land to build villas.  The attraction for them was that, unlike the flashier Porto Cervo, there was no tourist hotel and therefore no crowds. Even today, Porto Rafael, though it has a yacht club, boasts only a limited number of shops.

Also on this day:

1660: The birth of composer Alessandro Scarlatti

1913: The birth of car designer Pietro Frua

1930: The birth of campaigning politician Marco Pannella